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June 10, 2007

Google's Street View and Privacy

Google's street-level imagery added to Google Maps last week stirred a lot of controversy. Even though the idea is far from new (Amazon's A9 and Microsoft included something similar in the last 2 years), Google's new features received much more press coverage and attention.

Google obtained most of the images from Immersive Media, except for California, where Google got its own images using the van pictured below, in a mirror reflection.

A lot of sites started to gather interesting images found in Google Maps (StreetViewr, Wired, Mashable, and the questions about privacy started to rise. Mary Kalin-Casey appeared in New York Times because she saw something very personal in Google Maps: "Monty, her cat, sitting on a perch in the living room window of her second-floor apartment". "The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people's lives. The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged," she said. The image is unclear and the cat is barely visible, but Ms. Casey was shocked to see a photo anyone could've taken, available online.

A Google representative explained that "Street View only features imagery taken on public property. This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street." Google also lets you remove inappropriate images, images that infringe on your privacy or present personal security concerns: just click on the help link and flag the current image. Apparently, this does work (here's the image that was removed for the location below - NSFW).

As proud as the Google Maps team may be of the wider coverage of its service, people are concerned about being spotted in strange, funny, or even illegal situations.

Some even suggest to add support for a special "robots.txt" banner. Or maybe we'll all realize that these are mere side-effects of a useful tool that lets you explore a city without being there, or take a virtual walk to a famous place.

This blog is not affiliated with Google.